Few TV dramas in recent years have been as controversial as The Mark Of Cain by Tony Marchant, finally screened last night after being postponed so as not to harm the prospects of the British naval personnel held in Iran until last week.
Critics, such as Gerard O'Donovan in The Telegraph, were mostly full of praise.
It confronted viewers – in parts graphically – with difficult but valid questions about how our troops, and their commanding officers, might behave in the pressure-cooker environment of insurgent-ridden Iraq. It did so with a sympathy and humanity that leapt off the screen in Matthew McNulty and Gerard Kearns’s performances as the two young squaddies at the centre of the storm. It explored the pack loyalty that the Army instils for the sake of discipline and control but which renders fine ideals like individual “moral courage” (ie the right to disobey a bad order, or report wrongdoing) redundant in practice. In such situations going against the group is always perceived as betrayal.Sam Wollaston in The Guardian agreed.
It is brilliant drama, bleakly beautiful, and horrifying. It perfectly captures the banality of war, the boredom, the bullying, and then the blind terror and confusion of battle. There are fantastic performances wherever you look, but especially from Gerard Kearns (of Shameless) as Mark, the young lad with a poster of Avril Lavigne on his wall at home, suddenly thrown into a very different world, a world with blood on the walls, and excrement. Mark ends up dead in the bath with a bag on his head, a gruesome nod to the Iraqi captives whose abuse he played a part in.Both critics, however, shared some of the reservations expressed by Ian Johns in The Times about the drama-documentary mix.
...the opening caption — “This film is based on extensive research but is a dramatic work of fiction” — kept gnawing at me. Of the events before us, what had been taken from definite events and what from rumour or suspicion? Marchant had clearly been inspired by documented cases, even prefiguring a six-month court martial covering similar abuse charges that delayed the film’s original transmission last year. So why didn’t he come up with a straight drama-documentary that would have clarified the division between fact and dramatic licence?